What the heck does a sixties jazz recording have to do with Disney animation, you might ask? Well, oddly enough there is a connection and it also involves a very talented Disney animator and layout artist. However, we’ll get to that in a minute.
If you’re not part of my generation you’ve probably never even heard of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Stan Kenton was a forties-fifties era orchestra leader and was well known for his progressive jazz recordings. Being a music student I was a total Stan Kenton Geek and I followed his incredible orchestra from venues at the Hollywood Paladium to Balboa Beach. I even hung out in the recording studios at Capitol Records in Hollywood whenever I knew the master was in town. Yes, there were “groupies” even in my ancient era and we took every opportunity to see and listen to our musical heroes.
The progressive jazz musician, Stan Kenton was a unique man. Tall, gaunt with chiseled features and straight silver hair, he would stand out in a crowd. I watched him lead his magnificent orchestra for nearly four decades before his untimely passing in the seventies. Inspired by the Kenton orchestra, I joined a big band while in high school and college and we played many of the masterful Kenton charts. The marvelous arrangements by Marty Paitch, Pete Ruggulo and Bill Russo. I last saw Stan Kenton while in the parking lot of Capitol Records in Hollywood. I had finally become a professional film maker and I was on site for a recording session. As the old master walked passed, he took a moment to look my way. It was as if he knew my face. Well, I’m not surprised he may have recognized me. When I was a young kid I had spent many an evening looking up at him from the base of the stage. Perhaps he remembered me as that skinny young kid with glasses - but I can’t say for sure.
However, there’s an interesting Disney twist to this musical story. When playing my album, “The Ballad Style of Stan Kenton” many years ago I noticed a familiar name on the album back cover. (remember when albums still came in covers?) One of the beautiful numbers on the album was credited to Dale Barnhart and I knew a Disney artist by the same name. That couldn’t possibly be the same person, I wondered? It was indeed the very same Dale Barnhart who occupied an office in 3-B, the third floor of Disney’s Animation Building. Dale Barnhart was a talented musician, as well as an artist in Disney’s animation department. At the time he was heading up a clean-up crew on the feature film, “Sleeping Beauty,” and he did indeed craft the beautiful ballad, “When stars looked down” for the Stan Kenton orchestra. In the years that followed, Dale Barnhart and I became good friends. his youngest son, Philo Barnhart also works in the animation business, and like his famous father, he has spent a good many years at work in Disney’s animation department. Not surprisingly, Dale’s wife, Phyllis also worked in the paint department of the Walt Disney Studio back in the fifties. When the Old Maestro insisted “Sleeping Beauty” be completed, Dale assembled his team. They were Fernando Arce, Bob Longo and Ruben Apodaca. They were the artists tasked with cleaning up the evil fairy, Malificient. I suppose few would have guessed that animation artist, Dale Barnhart was also a talented composer as well.
Dale Barnhart and Stan Kenton are no longer with us. However, the awesome music and the beautiful art they created will remain with us forever.